Cats are hard to impress. As a devoted cat owner, you’ve probably tried multiple tactics to ensure your cat’s comfort and happiness:
- You’ve tried food — But, as you set down your cat’s food dish, they survey the food with a sniff, and saunter off.
- You’ve tried to play — You emptied out your spare room to create a space to run wild, but the only place your cat ran was away.
- You’ve tried toys — The flopping fish toy that charmed so many felines on television now sits lifeless on the bookshelf.
Unfortunately, the harder you try, the more your cat seems stressed and uncomfortable. Perhaps, like many owners, you’ve finally decided to quit trying and “let them be.” Unfortunately for many indoor cats, this less-is-more approach often leads to behavioral disorders, health issues (e.g., urinary disorders, obesity, aggression, obsessive habits, upper respiratory conditions), and euthanasia.
At Just Cats Clinic, we applaud your effort to engage your cat. However, if you do not first meet their environmental needs, you’ll always end up playing alone. Cats require a safe environment, with adequate stimulation to ensure their mental and emotional health. We present five requirements for feline satisfaction.
#1: Space—provide a safe space for your cat
While an indoor-only lifestyle is the best protection from external threats (e.g., being hit by a car, attacked, or becoming lost), your cat may not see things the same way. In fact, a home that appears cozy and chic to you, may look barren and dangerous to a cat.
For the most part, cats prefer to stay hidden, or at least have the opportunity to retreat quickly. Design your cat’s environment to include:
- Inconspicuous travel routes — Minimalistic or austere decor and large open spaces can leave cats feeling exposed. Arrange furniture so that your cat can move around unnoticed, or disappear quickly.
- Abundant hiding places — Hiding places help your cat relax, and sleep comfortably. For maximum contentment, your cat should fit snugly without a lot of extra space. Most cats prefer elevated or warm locations, such as a sunny window seat.
- Vertical space — Elevated locations allow your cat to observe their surroundings, or initiate predatory behavior without fear of danger. Cat trees, or a cozy bed placed on an elevated surface, can instantly elevate your cat’s sense of security.
For social and outgoing cats, consider expanding their horizons with adventuring.
#2: Resources—ensure your cat has reliable access to basic needs
If you have a multiple-cat home, ensure that each cat has access to their basic resources. Eliminate the stress and anxiety caused by bullying and resource guarding, by providing multiple resource stations for food, water, litter boxes, scratching posts, toys, elevated perches, and hiding places throughout your home.
Whether you have one cat or several, arrange their resources to suit feline preferences, such as:
- Placing the food and water away from the litter box
- Using a wide, shallow dish for water, to prevent whisker discomfort
- Keeping resources well separated, and, when possible, including a visual barrier to reduce feline stress and anxiety, improve health, and encourage use
- Maintaining clean litter boxes by scooping at least once daily
#3: Predatory and play behavior—let your cat exercise natural instincts
Your cat is a natural hunter, which explains why they may not appear enthused by the routine delivery of pre-portioned food into a bowl. Cats need to express natural behaviors, such as stalking, chasing, pouncing, and manipulating their prey, to achieve physical and mental health. Without adequate mental and physical exercise, cats gain weight, and may over groom and self-mutilate.
Fortunately, live prey is not required to replicate these behaviors. Instead, simulate a hunting or foraging situation with:
- Puzzle feeders — Treat-dispensing balls and motion-activated dispensers encourage critical thinking, and trigger your cat’s prey drive.
- Foraging toys and games — Toys like the NoBowl Feeding System are a safe way to keep your cat physically active, and they stimulate natural hunting behavior.
- Interactive toy play — Toy play should simulate prey behavior (e.g., erratic, unpredictable movement). Always end the game with your cat trapping and “killing” the toy, to prevent frustration. If you use a laser pointer, always end the “chase” with a treat or toy.
- Scratching posts — Place scratching posts near exciting areas, such as play areas and near windows, for your cat. Cats often seek out a place to scratch during stimulating activities.
#4: Social interaction—provide cat-approved TLC
Cats are certainly not small dogs, but they still require social interaction with humans. Allow your cat to determine the exact interaction, and never force them to participate. Physical play, toy play, snuggling, grooming, or speaking softly to your cat may be all they require. Whatever your cat prefers, ensure you provide daily engagement opportunities, to prevent isolation-related stress, depression, and illness.
#5: Scent awareness—recognize your cat’s sensitive nose
Cats disperse their scent to define their territory and communicate. They apply their scent by facial rubbing, scratching, and urine-marking. Cats are comforted by their own scent on familiar objects, and may become stressed or confused when their scent is removed, or overridden by another cat or a chemical cleaner. While soiled areas and urine should be treated thoroughly using an enzymatic cleaner, avoid regular cleaning or laundering of other cat areas. Household products with heavy fragrances and perfumes may trigger respiratory illness and behavioral issues in cats.
Prioritizing your cat’s comfort by meeting their environmental needs will ultimately contribute to a healthier and happier cat. For additional ideas on improving your cat’s home life, contact the team at Just Cats Clinic.